NAPE/AFSCME member John Williams, an Airport Firefighter Crew Chief with the Nebraska Military Department, has been a State of Nebraska employee for nearly ten years. John and his fellow firefighters work on the Nebraska Air National Guard base in Lincoln, where they conduct routine safety inspections and respond to fires and medical emergencies.
As Crew Chief, John is responsible for at least one of the trucks — either a crash truck or a fire engine — for responses to various emergencies. When the firefighters aren’t responding to emergencies, John and his crew train rigorously so they’re always prepared for what might come their way.
“We train on everything from hazardous materials incidents, medical emergencies, aircraft-related or structural firefighting, vehicle extrication, and a number of other topics,” he said.
Because the Lincoln Airport has one of the longest runways in the midwest at just over 12,000 feet, John said it’s not uncommon for very large planes traveling cross-country to divert to the airport in the case of a medical or mechanical emergency.
“You could actually land a space shuttle here. They can land any airplane that exists,” he said. “And because we have a full-time fire department with lots of capabilities, they’ll choose this airport to divert to.”
John is passionate about the work that he and his coworkers do — whether it’s responding to emergencies or training for them.
“It takes a little bit of an extra drive when you don’t have the call volume of the larger city department — to continue to train and focus and hone your craft — so that when the time does come that there’s an emergency, you still have a sharp edge and are ready to respond,” he said. “Maintaining that edge takes more effort when you don’t get to use it every single day.”
It’s this commitment to training and preparation that he is most proud of. As Crew Chief, John plays a big role in training new firefighters, some of whom are fresh out of high school and others who are coming from a completely different profession.
“In about a year, we take them from not knowing anything about firefighting to being a fully qualified airport firefighter. We ensure that they have multiple certifications, which takes over 1,000 hours of hands-on training time,” he said. “It’s quite a task…and I’m very proud that we’re able to guide our new employees through that process and get them to the point where they’re able to help serve the state.”
John said that even when they aren’t at work, firefighters are alerted about incoming emergencies.
“That’s one of the worst things,” he said. “Every time there’s a call, I want to be there.”
Outside of work, John likes to woodwork and spend time with his wife and kids.